2012 Annual Letter From Bill Gates
Editor’s Excerpts and Bolding
There are still years of work to be done to introduce the diarrhea and pneumonia vaccines into every country. Moreover, global coverage of basic childhood vaccines is around 80 percent, which is good compared to many other health interventions but leaves one out of five children unprotected. We need to recreate the high-level political focus that this issue received during the 1970s, when dedicated effort brought us from just 20 percent coverage to 80 percent coverage in most countries in just a decade…
The foundation’s top priority remains helping to complete the eradication of polio, perhaps the best-known vaccine-preventable disease in the world. I spend a lot of my time learning about the disease and being an advocate for doing what it takes to end polio. At the start of 2011, poliovirus was still spreading in three areas: 10 countries in Africa (with viruses that originated primarily in Nigeria), Afghanistan and Pakistan, and India.
Now India has reached a huge milestone. The country had only one case in 2011, which was recorded on January 13 in West Bengal. So on January 13, 2012, India celebrated its first year of being polio free. The challenge in India was mind-boggling. It’s hard to imagine how you would design a polio campaign that reached every Indian child. More than a billion people live in the country. Massive numbers of families migrate constantly to find work. One of the largest states, Bihar, is flood-prone. In some cases, the vaccine didn’t work as well as it had in other parts of the world, probably because of malnourishment, diarrhea, and other illnesses. But the government kept raising awareness and improving the quality of its campaigns, even in the toughest locations.
The Indian government deserves special credit for this achievement. In 2012 we need to keep India and all the other places that are polio free from getting re-infected.
The biggest focus for 2012 will be improving the polio vaccination campaigns in Nigeria, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I recently visited Chad and Nigeria to meet with leaders there, and it’s clear that we have high-level political support. Still, deploying high-quality vaccination teams and educating parents so that every single child is vaccinated will take a lot of work. In Nigeria our biggest problems are low-quality campaigns and the fact that some parents don’t trust that the vaccine is safe. In Pakistan these problems are compounded by the security situation.
It will be challenging to continue raising the approximately $1 billion per year it takes to run the global campaign. Last year the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Canada, Norway, Saudi Arabia, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and Rotary International provided substantial contributions. Rotary continues to be the heart and soul of polio eradication, supporting the program directly while also taking on a larger role in encouraging other donors to give more. A new partner, FC Barcelona, is spreading the message of polio eradication to millions of football fans across the globe.
We are continuing to invest in studies about how polio spreads and trying to model where we need to intensify the vaccination campaigns. We are also working on new vaccines. Finding every last poliovirus requires good tools along with trained and motivated workers in every single country.
These are enormous obstacles, but the success of the polio eradication program in India and 90 other countries gives me confidence that we can triumph in these final challenging countries and end polio once and for all…